Amongst those who spend any time on the canal it's difficult to find individuals who have not come across Simon Jenkins - whether it was during his early days building and restoring boats on the Wyrley and Essington canal, his time carrying cargoes, towing boats or selling painted wares around the canal system or the last ten years, during which time he has transformed the former Anglo Welsh base here at Norbury Junction.
Simon is one of those people who exude confidence and optimism. Born in Birmingham, schooled in Sutton Coldfield, Simon was never far away from the canal but he didn't really come onto the water until a spell at Agricultural College where he aquired engineering skills.
Restoring a 39ft Springer led onto building a tug, an unusual style in those days and in 1996 he bought an ex-Fellows, Morton and Clayton boat called Empress, a steamer and restored her - including a new bottom plate - working with friends and using his own engineering and welding skills.
He was offered work with Anglo Welsh and began living on board boats. As senior engineer at Norbury he got to know the base very well but eventually the entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to cruise the system got the better of him and he set off with his then wife, Lisa, a canal artist, using Empress.
Simon said: “We travelled a lot of the system and used the boat for anything from carrying some small cargoes to towing boats. Empress was a proper commercial working boat and we covered 40 rallies in two years all around the country.
Soon afterwards Anglo Welsh decided to dispose of Norbury and offered it to Simon, and along with boat fitter Mick Thompson they created the present partnership to take it on. “There is a lot of history here at Norbury and although the place was run down for a couple of years there was a lot we could do. Now we have day boats, hire boats and a trip boat.” In addition the Tearoom is now a popular spot all-year round and the shop sells a range of gifts and essential groceries. They also rent out a holiday cottage next to the wharf. Simon boasts that there is now nothing they cannot do when it comes to narrowboats.
Norbury Wharf’s dry dock site in the first of sixteen locks on what was once the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal – and there is nothing Simon would welcome more than its restoration – and he wants it to be re-opened right the way through to Shrewsbury as that would provide a genuine tourist route that would benefit not just the canal network but the economy of the area and the prosperity of his business.
Although Simon has strong roots in the history of the canal system, he has restored and rebuilt several historic boats, he also believes that we have a successful boating community that may be different from the old working boats but is probably more viable in the long term. “Historic boats are a passion for us and it is important that we keep those vessels going and encourage interest from a new generation of young people.” That’s why he’s is proud of his manager, David Ray, who has boated from an early age , restored several historic boats and now owns Ant; another historic boat, and encourages his active participation in events. Simon has owned and worked on three Joshers, as well as the Ex BWB boat Ant. “I feel if you do something like that you are becoming part of the history of the canals. Somewhere, someone will have a note that you helped keep this or that boat afloat and doing a job of some sort.”